She was still standing there trying to figure out what she had gotten herself into when Amy finally came out of the store carrying several bags. She was out of breath and Lindsey realized that she must have seen her talking to Tony and rushed to try to meet him. Amy automatically shoved most of her bags at Lindsey for her to carry. Lindsey just rolled her eyes at her friend's presumption that she was a pack mule. She must have come to the mall right after school because she still had her backpack and from the number of bags she had, she had been here for a while.
Lindsey glanced at her watch and motioned toward the mall entrance on the other side of the food court. “I’m parked that way. If we don’t leave now we are going to be late meeting Camille and Sara.” She waited for a family of four to pass her before starting toward the door.
Amy looked at the table where Lindsey’s guy friend sat with what were obviously his friends. There were eight of them including him but he didn’t seem to be paying any attention to any of them. She noticed that he was watching their progress around the food court but he wasn’t looking at Amy. He was starring at Lindsey with a look of such possession that her internal alarm was shrieking. Guys very rarely even looked at Lindsey. They all tended to gravitate toward her. Now that she thought about it, she couldn’t remember ever seeing Lindsey talk to a guy until today.
Amy knew her reasons for pushing people away but she didn’t always agree with them. She glanced back at Lindsey and rolled her eyes. She was digging in her purse for her keys and didn’t even notice that the man was watching her. Amy wondered how Lindsey could be so daft about some things and still be as smart as she was. She was going to have to help her in a few areas. Just not with that guy. Something about the way he was watching Lindsey was just…off. All three of the girls plus Jason were protective of Lindsey.
“So, are you going to tell me who that guy was you were talking to? You know I’m just dying to find out.” They were almost to the mall doors before Lindsey pulled her keys out. Obviously, her mind had already gone on to something else.
She looked up questioningly but then her brow smoothed as she understood what Amy was asking. “Oh, his name is Tony Clark. His dad owns Clark Construction.” She shrugged, thinking it was no big deal. Knowing her the way Amy did, she probably didn’t think it was a big deal.
There was a short pause while Amy waited for more information. “That’s it? That’s all you are going to tell me?” From the look on her face she wanted more details. Lindsey should have known she wasn’t going to get away without talking about it.
“There really isn’t anything to tell.” They pushed through the doors and began walking toward Lindsey’s car across the parking lot. The sun had already started to go down behind a mountain so they didn’t have to worry about the sun glaring down on them but there was still plenty of light left to see where they were going. The parking lot lights were beginning to turn on. “It was really strange actually. You know guys don’t ever talk to me. It’s always you they’re after and I like it that way. I don’t need any more complications in my life, especially right now.” That thought brought to mind what was waiting for her when she got home. Refusing to have her one day off ruined, she slammed the door on those thoughts and locked it.
“He came out of nowhere, introduced himself, flirted a little and then left. I’d understand it if you had been with me. Sometimes guys come up and talk to me because they want to get introduced to you but you weren’t with me this time. Guys don’t just strike up a conversation with me just to have one. Things like that just don’t happen to me.” She shook her head, the possibility too foreign for her to imagine. She knew she was just the plain, girl-next-door type.
Amy sighed. Lindsey really had no idea how beautiful she was. She knew plenty of guys from school that had wanted to ask Lindsey out but she had made it an art of avoiding them or politely telling them she wasn’t interested. Amy didn’t think she even realized she was doing it anymore. It was just reflex now. She knew that her home life was to blame for that. Lindsey’s life was so much the opposite of hers that she wondered sometimes how they had even become such good friends.
It didn’t matter how many times Amy told her she wasn’t plain, Lindsey just refused to believe it. She would always just deny it and then change the subject. Not wanting to have that same old discussion again, she got back on subject. “You didn’t even exchange numbers?”
Lindsey shook her head, a perplexed expression crossing her face. “No. He said he preferred talking in person to over the phone. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to believe him or not. It sounded a little too much like a line to me but he seemed sincere.” She shrugged as best she could with the load she was carrying. It didn’t really matter to her one way or another if it was true. There simply was no room in her life right now for a relationship. Having another friend wouldn’t hurt though, especially one that her father didn’t know about.
They reached her car and she popped the trunk on her little red Saturn to put Amy’s bags in it. She had debated on even getting a car, worried that it would dig too far into savings but since she had bought it used, it hadn’t been as bad as she had feared. She had gotten it from Larry, her boss from work that was more like a big brother than a boss. She had quickly fallen in love with the car and never regretted buying it.
She shut the trunk after Amy put her two bags in and went around, opening the driver side door. Looking at Amy over the roof of the car, she confessed. “We set up to meet for a movie tomorrow after I get off work. Whether or not he really shows up is anybody’s guess. Maybe it’s all a prank of some kind?” She let the thought trail off, not knowing what she would do if he did show up. She had never been on a date. “If he doesn’t show up, I can still see a movie. There is really no downside as far as I can see. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one.”
Amy wondered how Lindsey could be so blind. She apparently really hadn’t noticed the looks that Tony had shot her as they left. “I don’t think you need to worry about that. I saw the way he was looking at you. Trust me, he’ll be there.”
Lindsey seriously doubted it but didn’t see the point in arguing. What will happen, will happen. “Let’s just go meet the girls and have a nice girls’ night out. This is my only day off this week, so I want to enjoy it.” Lindsey had become really good at stopping conversations that she didn’t want to have. She got into the car and started the engine.
Lindsey may be naïve but Amy wasn’t. She had no doubt Tony Clark would show up tomorrow. It wasn’t just the possession that she had seen but the intensity of it that put her on edge. She worried her bottom lip with her teeth but got into the car.
Maybe this was exactly what Lindsey needed. If it didn’t work out, Camille, Sara and she could do damage control but that was something they could worry about later. She would have to watch them closely and try her best to make sure she didn’t get hurt. Lindsey spent so much of her time and energy protecting everyone around her that she always forgot that there were times that she needed to protect herself. She had enough grief in her life without adding this to it. After everything that they had seen her through, all of them would move heaven and earth to make sure she wasn’t hurt. She would talk to the girls about it and they would help her keep an eye on Mr. Tony Clark.
Tony sat down at the end of the table next to Drew, his best friend. “Hey, guys. Sorry I’m late.” He grinned at them all in general but couldn’t keep his eyes from straying back to Lindsey. He could still faintly smell her sweet scent and didn’t think he would ever be able to get it out of his system. It seemed to have burned into his brain.
He watched as a woman Lindsey’s age walked up to her carrying an armload of bags and assumed that this was the Amy that she had been waiting for. He frowned slightly when she thrust most of the bags at Lindsey and she automatically took them without complaint, leaving her friend with just a backpack and one other bag. They began to walk around the food court to the exit as Lindsey shuffled all the bags onto one arm and began to dig in her purse with her other hand. It annoyed him that her so called friend had one hand free but didn’t even offer to take some of the bags from her.
Her friend glanced at him several times, not even bothering to hide her curiosity. He hardly noticed her. His gaze seemed to be glued to Lindsey. He couldn’t help this feeling of protectiveness, even from such a small thing as her friend taking advantage of her. It welled up so fast and was so explosive that he just barely restrained himself from going to relieve her of the load and let her friend know just what he thought of her behavior.
It was bizarre. He had known her a total of five minutes but already he was feeling protective, possessive, even a little obsessed. He had always believed in love at first sight thanks to his mother being a hopeless romantic but this was ridiculous. It took every ounce of will power he possessed to keep his emotions from showing on his face and wasn’t at all sure that he was successful.
As the two girls walked out of the mall, Tony felt a light punch on his arm and realized that he had been so focused on Lindsey that he had completely forgotten his friends. Again. He really needed to get a grip. He never lowered his guard in public. It had been drilled into him for as long as he could remember. Always, always pay attention to your surroundings. It could mean the difference between life and death for his kind.
Drew waved his hand in front of Tony’s face trying to break the trance that he was in. Looking over at Drew’s unruly red hair and laughing brown eyes, Tony couldn’t help but grin. He didn’t get distracted very often but apparently when he did, he did it right. His mom always said he never did anything halfway. He supposed this was one more thing he could add to her list.
“So who was she? It’s not like you to put us off for a girl.” Drew knew him better than anyone else sitting at the table. He never questioned anything he did and gave his full support no matter what his own opinion was. He just always assumed that Tony had his reasons. For that loyalty alone, Tony had already decided to make Drew his second-in-command when his dad retired and he took over.
“Nobody you need to worry about.” He didn’t want any of them getting in the way while he figured out what was between Lindsey and him. Drew was the one person that he knew he could trust with the information but in the present company there was no way he was going to say anything. He also knew that Drew understood that and Tony would let him know later after the others from his Pride were gone. There wasn’t much that he discussed about himself around them, especially something as sensitive as this. They were friends but not close enough to trust with something this delicate, something he didn’t even understand yet.
“I don’t know why you were even talking to that human anyway. They’re no good for anything.” Melody flipped her stylish blonde hair over her shoulder with a well-manicured hand.
The jealousy that she felt was obvious in her tone. She hated it when Tony showed an interest in anyone but her. She had the misconceived notion that they were meant to be together and nothing he did or said changed her mind. He had been blunt and matter of fact on the multiple times he had informed her that they were never going to be together and they would never even date. Nothing he said fazed her. Tony avoided her at all costs but he had been so preoccupied with Lindsey that he hadn’t thought to look and see if she had been there. She wasn’t even supposed to know about their get-togethers on Fridays.
Of all the days to not be paying attention to what’s going on around me, he thought derisively. His lion perked up and let him know that he thought it was understandable considering the circumstances. Meeting Lindsey was definitely worth the distraction.
It was widely known that Melody hated humans. No one really knew why but she never passed up the opportunity to state her opinion on them. Tony really didn’t know what the big deal was. Humans couldn’t help being human any more than they could help being lions. He knew that she hadn’t gotten it from her parents. Both Tim and Amanda treated humans the same way they treated the Pride lions. If they saw a need they did everything within their power to lend a helping hand, whether it was helping to build something, sending food, paying a bill to help them get by, or simply being there to lend support. Everyone in the Pride was that way. To their way of thinking, if someone needed it and they had it, why not give it.
He and Melody were the same age and had grown up together. Their dads were almost always together since Ronnie was Pride leader and Tim was second-in-command, so as a turnabout, their kids were often together as well. Melody was beautiful and she knew it. Her self-centered attitude alone was enough to turn him off. Even if he had at one time been interested, he could never be with someone that would always put themselves before the wellbeing of the Pride. In small ways she had done that numerous times. It put into question what she would do in a real emergency.
Here in the past couple of years, Melody had been trying to wheedle her way closer to him and dropping hints about marriage and cubs. Her visions of the future always included him and it was making him downright uncomfortable to be around her.
He had never asked Drew for much but lately he had one task for him; make sure Melody was always kept at a safe distance. When she was near him she wanted to touch. It was for that reason that he had made the rule about no one touching him. He had announced to everyone that he was not to be touched unless he gave his permission. Not that the rule deterred her in any way. She still took liberties that were not her place to take. He didn’t like her touching him. It made his skin crawl.
Tony looked across the table at her, his good mood suddenly vanishing. He had learned a long time ago that being subtle didn’t work with her. He had to be blunt or she twisted what he said around to suite her own purposes. “You’re nothing but a despicable snob, Melody.” He said it with disgust leaving no doubt to what he thought of her. Turning to Drew, he c****d his eyebrow at him. “You couldn’t have sent some kind of text to let me know she was here? It would have saved me the drive out.” Although now that he had met Lindsey he couldn’t say that he was sorry for that.
Drew opened his mouth to explain but was interrupted.
“It’s not being a snob to know your worth. We are at the top and they are way down on the bottom. I for one know my place.” She leaned forward and reached across the table to grab his hand. He knew what she was doing. She tended to say or do something to distract him so that she could touch him but it was something that he always, always, quickly corrected.
Before she could touch him, he leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. He sneered at her. “Don’t touch me. And you don’t know your place and just proved my point.” He glanced down the table and noticed that two of their group, Caitlyn and Tracey, looked nervous. They knew how Tony felt about her. They also knew that Melody was a little bit crazy where he was concerned. Her other friend, Renee, was talking to his friend Nathan at the other end of the table. Whatever they were discussing must be engrossing because they weren’t paying any attention to what was going on around them. Jackson and Drew looked more attentive than they did a few moments ago, feeling the tension that was starting to rise at the table.
“My place is with you, of course. Wife of the future Pride Leader, your mate, mother of your cubs,” she laughed a little and shook her head as if he was playing with her and he should have already known it. “As soon as you stop playing around and start taking what we have seriously anyway.” It didn’t seem to bother her that he wouldn’t let her touch him.
Tony’s eyes went hard and cold. He slid his chair back, placed his hands on the table, and got right up in Melody’s face. He wanted to make sure that he got his point across this time. “I am not now nor will I ever be anything to you other than your future Pride Leader and then Pride Leader when Dad decides he’s had enough. Marry you? b***h I wouldn’t touch you with a fifty-foot pole. Don’t come near me again,” he said through his teeth. He added a low growl to remind her of his authority. “Get this through your thick head. There is no us, we are not a couple. We will never be a couple. Go stalk someone else.”
He stood up and finally broke eye contact with her. He’d had enough and they were beginning to draw attention from other tables. “I’m out of here guys. I’m not sticking around here dealing with her s**t tonight. If you want to stay that’s fine but I’ll find something else to do tonight.” Not waiting to see if they followed him, he walked out of the food court and started for the exit. He couldn’t think of anything but getting away from Melody.
As he walked off, his acute hearing picked up her comment. “He is just saying that because we are in public around these,” she paused, “people.” She had obviously caught herself before she said ‘human’. Clearly, she wasn’t so far gone that she was willing to face the Pride Leaders’ wrath. Always keep the secret. That was the one rule you always kept no matter the circumstances. To let people know the Pride existed was punishable by death. Even she wasn’t stupid enough to break that rule. “And if that girl,” she said it as though it were dirty, “gets in my way, I’ll take care of her too.”
Tony just stopped short of growling out loud. He turned slowly and stalked back toward Melody. For the first time that he could ever remember, he saw fear in her eyes. Finally! He was getting through to her. Getting in her face again, he wanted to make sure that she knew he meant business. “If you even think about dragging an innocent into your perverted little world, I will kill you. Damn the Pride laws. There will be nothing left of you to take to trial. Have I made myself clear?” He said it so calmly and so quietly that no one within hearing distance doubted the truth behind his words.
He stayed just long enough to see her shake her head in acknowledgment and realize that he was deadly serious. Without a backward glance he moved fast to get out the door before he decided that he wouldn’t wait for her to deserve it before he killed her.